Background - 05.05.2021 - 00:00 

Trust and dialogue as the basis of social cohesion

“Trust Matters” – during the 50th St.Gallen Symposium, participants are looking for solutions to how trust in business and society, politics and science can be restored and maintained. On the first day, debating points included the importance of dialogue for social cohesion.

5 May 2021. It was a special opening ceremony of the 50th anniversary of the St.Gallen Symposium. As a consequence of the pandemic, the student-organised conference is being run without participants’ physical presence in St.Gallen. However, the campus of the University of St.Gallen (HSG) is still the central broadcasting location of the Symposium. The worldwide events are linked to St.Gallen by streams to ensure that the dialogue is transmitted to the whole world in a hybrid fashion. The more than 200 participants come from more than 80 countries all over the world.

Inauguration of the 50th St.Gallen Symposium

Despite restrictions due to the pandemic,  the current point in time was ideal for celebrating the anniversary, emphasised Dominic Barton, the Canadian ambassador to China, in his opening address. The issue of “trust” was as topical again as it was in 1970, the year in which the Symposium was founded and which was characterised by student protests. “Trust between countries is more important than it has been for a long time,” said Swan Gin Beh, Chairman of the Singapore Economic Development Board. The global pandemic, in particular, could only be mastered together. “We have currently got a lack of trust,” underlined Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach, Vice-Chairman of Goldman Sachs, and cited the Black Lives Matter movement and the climate movement as further examples. The restoration of trust was a great challenge – both personally and institutionally. “Trust is contingent on trustworthiness, and for this it’s important to tell the truth.” “If you trust people, they’ll do a good job”, said moderator Peter Voser, Chairman of the Board of Directors of ABB Ltd. What was important for this was dialogue; only in this way could people be successful.

Dialogue between trade unions and companies

The social partnership between employers’ associations and trade unions is a special form of social dialogue – particularly in Europe’s strongest national economy, Germany. This social partnership and its role in the current economic crisis was discussed by Rainer Dulger, President of the Confederation of German Employers’ Associations, und Reiner Hoffmann, head of Germany's Trade Union Confederation, with the President of Leuphana Universität Lüneburg, Prof. Sascha Spoun. Both representatives praised social partnership as an indispensable basis of the social market economy and a thing of great value. “The dialogue between trade unions and employers creates peace and stability and is often more suitable than statutory regulations,” said Hoffmann.

The necessary balance between economic, ecological and social sustainability was discussed as a central subject of the social dialogue. The younger generation had high expectations and was impatient, said Prof. Sascha Spoun. Rainer Dulger pointed out that this was not merely about how we wanted to live but what we wanted to live on. He was convinced that people could also be successful in the environmental sector. “Many things are sorted out by the market. Only those who pay decent salaries and offer good working conditions will get good employees.” Reiner Hoffmann argued that there were also industries with far less regulated conditions and that the problems could be not solved with freedoms alone. Dulger and Hoffmann were in agreement with regard to the importance of education, which was the “battleground” of the future and key to a successful employment history.

Polarisation and the role of the media

What contribution can journalism and the media make to strengthening social cohesion, dialogue and trust in times of technology-driven polarisation? This is what Pia Frey, co-founder of Opinary GmbH, discussed with Maria Exner, editor-in-chief of ZEITmagazin, and Paul Ostwald, co-founder and editor-at-large of Maria Exner emphasised the changed information landscape. “This isn’t about gatekeeping. We must position ourselves vis-à-vis other sources that provide information, and we must differentiate ourselves from them.” Exner said self-critically that the point was still too often to intensify and reinforce assertions instead of understanding the motivation behind them. The fact that people moved in filter bubbles and echo chambers was not per se the media’s fault, but the media ought to contribute to dispelling them and offer alternatives. “It’s not that people should change their minds,” underlined Paul Ostwald. “Good journalism should show that other arguments deserve equal respect and people behind the arguments should not be forgotten.” Ostwald quoted from the latest Reuters report that people were prepared to pay for good journalism. However, it was important for consumers today not merely to be targets for advertising but to feel that they are taken seriously as part of a community.

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